Independents often get a bad wrap in American politics. They’re more than likely characterized as apathetic, disinterested milquetoasts too spineless or clueless to pick a side and stick with them. Partisans from either ideological pole shout at them “Do you even pay attention? Isn’t it obvious who you should vote for!?”
But, as revealed in a recent focus group of 14 Independents hosted by pollster Frank Luntz and showcased by The New York Times, Independents are often far more politically astute than they’re given credit for.
They gave the same answers you would expect from a liberal who believes systemic racism threatens to squelch democracy or a conservative who believes globalism and the deep state threaten to destroy the Founders’ vision when Luntz asked them to describe in a single word life in contemporary America.
“Divided,” “Dismal,” “Burned out,” “Disappointment,” “Stressful,” they responded.
They were acutely aware that the current level of division hasn’t been seen before in the country’s history, save perhaps in the lead up to the Civil War.
“I don’t know what the future holds. It’s scary. And I’m 66, so I have seen this country in lots of ups and downs, and I feel this is the lowest point in my lifetime,” Janet, a woman from Ohio, told Luntz.
“I think they’ve taken us back to cave man time, where you would walk around with a club. “I want what you have.” You’re not even safe to walk around and go to the train station, because somebody might throw you off the train, OK? It’s a regression,” a Latina woman from crime-ridden New York said.
Her assessment was seconded by a man from Austin, Texas, who added, “Things are kind of chaotic. I feel like there’s no rules, really.”
Crime and COVID dominated the discussion. Some were for the stringent COVID safety measures and some were desperate to get back to normal, but almost all agreed that crime was out of control.
Nearly half of the participants were losing sleep over politics, a phenomenon usually reserved for the very online and those plagued by fever dreams of Pizzagate or Russian collusion.
COVID and the economy were the two issues mostly to blame.
They were concerned about the inflation crisis created by the Biden administration and the isolating effect of remote work.
“It affects my everyday life, from everything that I do and choose to do throughout the day. I’ve had Covid multiple times, and I’m concerned with that, but inflation is hitting us every day in our pockets and everything that we do,” one participant said.
Another participant’s husband had been laid off twice during the pandemic but had found a better paying job in a different state. Though she admitted that the new job left her family better off financially, she described the whole situation as “very weird” because of the separation between her husband’s new job and their local community.
None of the participants were confident that Biden and congressional Democrats have a workable plan to improve the economy and combat inflation. None looked forward to Biden running again in 2024.
“Both parties can put better people to run than the two that we’re getting. It’s really sad,” Scott, a health care worker from Florida, said.
The group described both Democrats and Republicans in similarly negative terms.
“Sneaky,” “Crazy,” “Sweet talkers,” “Chaotic,” were used to describe Democrats. “Weak,” “Ruthless,” “Inconsistent,” “Dishonest and cowardly” for Republicans.
“I am so sick of the stranglehold duopoly. It just frustrates me so much. Keeps everybody infighting among the people while they all just go to their barbecues and cocktail parties and laugh. They just want the power. They couldn’t care less about us. We need more options,” one participant, a construction project manager from Arizona, said.
While many partisan conservatives and liberals will protect their own to the death, no matter the transgression, these Independents seem to look past base tribalism and recognize what is really going on in American politics. After the cameras shut down and the Twitter hashtags fade, those who seem the bitterest of enemies in the public sphere congregate in the clubs and restaurants in Washington. They make a big show on T.V. and social media, but at the end of the day they meet in the same smoke-filled rooms.
Curiously, in a hypothetical showdown between Biden, Trump and Joe Manchin, four chose Trump and four chose Biden, but six chose Manchin — a far cry from either side’s narrative that Manchin is an outlier on the national scene.
Biden was savaged in the focus group. None thought he had succeeded expectations and many had their high hopes for the president snatched away by his myriad blunders during his first year in office.
“I would say, another year of the same — stagnation. He had eight years as a vice president, and I figured he would have had experience and would have been able to lead and unite the country more than he has. And I don’t see that happening,” Nick, a merchandise designer from Pennsylvania, told Luntz.
Very few expressed any concern about the integrity of the upcoming midterm elections or the elections in 2024, with many describing Democrats’ preoccupation with the Jan. 6 riot as overblown.
“I am not concerned. I also did not think that Jan. 6 was remotely the disaster that it’s being made out to be,” a parent from Virginia said.
Despite the constant ridicule they receive from both the left and the right, Independents seem, from the results of this focus group at least, to have the most sober view of the country. They correctly identify the most pressing issues facing the country (inflation, the economy and COVID restrictions) rather than focus on culture war minutiae like the appropriate sexiness of the green M&M.
Often, the more ideologically entrenched bases of both parties dominate the conversation — certainly online but also in Congress — and these real issues are either ignored for the latest fad in the never-ending culture war or mentioned in a dry, rote list of talking points as part of a fundraising email.
They are more often than not glossed over, or the solutions to these problems are grossly oversimplified to whether the rich should be taxed more or less, or whether the police should be abolished altogether or rendered totally immune to any scrutiny.
The culture war is important, but any genuine populist movement cannot afford to ignore the issues that matter to Independents, for those are the issues that make a populist movement. The rule of law and a prosperous economy that works for the little man are the two most potent slogans a populist movement can espouse, and that kind of messaging is what will make an ascendant coalition.
Hayden Daniel is the opinion editor at the Daily Caller.